In recent years, a typical response to the observation that electronic monitoring systems are becoming too powerful and are been misused (in particular by governments - for example the monitoring by the US government of the international banking transactions going through the SWIFT clearinghouse, or the widespread phone wiretapping in Italy) is that "honest people have nothing to fear". On the surface, that's commonsensical. In reality, that notion is a fallacy. Even honest people have much to be concerned with: mistakes, homonymy, inaccuracies, stolen identities, abuses, discrimination, the growing authoritarian temptation that's seeping into many governments to use monitoring technology just because it exists (ready-made rationale in this times of generalized fear: "to protect the honest citizen"), the risk that private or criminal organization get access to data and misuse them (to deny health insurance coverage, for example).
John Twelve Hawks - the pseudonym of a mysterious writer - has written a pretty good novel on this very notion that "honest people have nothing to fear", demonstrating how untrue it is. It's called "The Traveller", was published last year (I'm catching up on my reading backlog) and is the story of a powerful organization that wants to control society through the "Vast Machine" (an all-encompassing, next-gen Internet that reaches into every database, every surveillance camera, every bank transaction, every reservation system) and of the few that refuse this uniformity and try to resist by living "off the grid" (not using computers, credit cards, etc) and using the ultimate weapon: their humanity.
To a certain extent, JTH's narrative echoes "The Matrix" and Orwell and other sci-fi worlds. But rather than in a distant future his novel is set towards the end of this decade. In a postscript he writes that all the technologies he mentions (from quantum computing to computational immunology to RFID tags to surveillance cameras) are either already in use or in an advanced stage of development. That makes for a storytelling we - Westerners - can strongly relate to, although the character of the title is of a distinct breed, one of a few people that can project themselves (their neural energy) out of this world into other dimensions (what the author calls "realms"), a group the bad guys want first to eliminate (because "travelling" allows them to escape the system) and try later to use for their goals.
JTH also lives "off the grid", or so he claims. He is said to remain in touch with his publisher through an untraceable satellite phone, to live in NY, LA and London, and he's edited by Jason Kaufman at Doubleday, who also edited Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code". That's pretty much all that's known about him (USAToday tried to learn more) and some believe that the mystery is only entertained for the purpose of publicity. It seems indeed pretty difficult nowadays to really live "off" and still fly across the Atlantic, get paid for a bestseller, and so on; but it's possible that he lives at least "part-off".
JTH makes a strong case that networked digital technology has totally transformed our conventional view of privacy and that, coupled with the current state of widespread fear, it is becoming a dangerously powerful tool of monitoring, manipulation and control. Says one of the bad guys in the novel, discussing about Jeremy Bentham's panopticon: "If one knows and accepts that he is constantly watched, it becomes a fact of life", which influences behaviors and choices and progressively erodes freedom and humanity. "The Traveler" however is not a dark book: more of a cautionary tale. It suggests that freedom and privacy can be protected by small, consistent daily choices.
Looking forward to JTH's next book (this is the first of a trilogy).